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Some ideas on managing anxiety engendered by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak

As the coronavirus spreads, many people are becoming anxious about the impact that it is having on their lives and about what might happen in the future.

This anxiety is a common reaction and is quite rational. It is important however, to recognise that this anxiety can become overwhelming for some.

This is an ideal opportunity for us to help ourselves, as well as the young people we support, to develop emotional resilience. Ideally we will all come out of this episode a little bit stronger, wiser and better able to cope with what life throws at us.

Here are some ideas about how to cope with the anxiety and fear surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

Be Realistic About Risk

Our brains are used to taking something that is made to sound scary and unknown, and inflating the risk of it actually happening to us. It’s a part of our brain’s intrinsic, built-in fight-or-flight response. Things that seem huge and out of control claim our attention over the more ordinary. For example, the coronavirus is getting a lot of attention whereas common flu viruses which cause many more illnesses each year are not: because we are used to them. However minimising or dismissing the risk altogether (denial) is also not helpful. Some degree of anxiety is useful as it raises awareness and keeps us alert – we just need to keep it in check.

Avoid Overconsumption of Media

Don’t look at your media feeds every 10 minutes! The longer you watch or read something, the more money a company makes, whether it’s online, on the TV, or on your phone. The coronavirus is a great opportunity for companies, as they work to scare you into believing that this outbreak is something you need to worry about constantly right this very minute. Inaccurate rumours abound and can be beguiling and terrifying.

Take control over your consumption of media and stories related to the outbreak. Scientists and public health officials are working overtime to better understand the virus and are looking at ways to limit its impact. Trust in their work and efforts. If you need updates, check out a government resource for the best, most accurate information.

Use Your Existing Coping Skills

No matter what the focus of one’s anxiety, using what’s worked in the past to help manage those feelings is often very helpful. This could be engaging in self-talk, to undo the irrational thoughts coming into your head with rational, fact-based responses. It could involve reaching out to a trusted friend, colleague or family member to talk through your anxiety. Or maybe it’s engaging in some mindfulness or meditation techniques; ones that you’ve learned and that have worked for you in the past. Gardening, going for a walk or run, listening to or playing music, drawing, colouring in or painting can all help to calm and reassure that you are safe and being looked after.

Whatever works to help relieve your stress and reduce your anxiety, try to do more of that in times like this. When you feel like the stress of this virus outbreak is getting to you remember, outbreaks like this do occur from time to time throughout the world. It’s normal. While they can be very scary — especially if you live in a highly-infected area — the actual chances of your becoming infected are very small if you take common- sense precautions.

Follow Government Health Advice

Comply with the existing government guidelines in all areas. This is a great opportunity to reinforce the importance of hygiene. Handwashing should be frequent and appropriate but not excessive/obsessive. There are a wide range of handwashing games and lessons on the internet to help get this message across.

Paying attention to maintaining your immune system is something pro-active you can do too. A healthy immune system is supported by a balanced diet and getting the amount of sleep you need to feel well-rested every night (8 hours for adults). Engaging in regular exercise is also important as it helps with mood, sleep and appetite.

Support our students

For students this is likely to be the first time they are experiencing news of the worldwide outbreak of a disease. Adults may be remembering H1N1 and SARS and therefore have some concept of impact and they know they survived it. Our students are not likely to have had similar experiences and it may seem to them that there are no bounds to the coronavirus spread and it may never end. They need reassurance that this is a phase and that it will end eventually.

If a student expresses concerns please do not tell them not to worry. If they are already worried this does not help, it dismisses their concerns which may make them more anxious. It is important to listen to their worries, empathise with their feelings and reassure them that they are safe and that what is going on is in their best interests.

Reach out, have fun and play!

Positive social interaction is very powerful for calming anxiety and distracting us from the concerns of our situation. Making an extra effort in this respect can pay dividends both in the short and the long term. Reach out to people who you think may need a friend or just a bit of company at this time. Reach out to someone you would like to know better. Take this opportunity to contribute to and develop your social support network.

Resources

  • Last week was “Children’s Mental Health Week” in the UK. The focus was on supporting children to “Find Your Brave”. This is highly appropriate in our current situation – we are all having to do this to some extent. Resources for teachers may be found  HERE 
  • In addition, the Anna Freud Centre is a children’s mental health charity based in the UK. The website has lots of resources for parents and schools. 
  • Advice and information on a wide range of mental health difficulties 

Written by Dr Angie Wigford, Educational Psychologist for Dover Court International School, Singapore / IEPS Ltd. 9th February 2020 (with reference to John M Grohol’s article on Coronavirus Anxiety: 4 ways to Cope with Fear on at Psych Central https://psychcentral.com/blog/coronavirus-anxiety-4-ways-to-cope-with-fear/).

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